ANNAPURNA 1: Short circuit

Trip Start Jan 10, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nepal  , Himalayan Region,
Monday, May 4, 2009

We're finally back.  Two weeks in the mountains and we are both thinner, dirtier and hairier people.  The trip was fantastic but boy were we happy when the plane took off from Jomsom airport to bring us back to low altitude, where steak, beer, showers, razors and sit-down loos are all available.  Ah civilisation!!

We took about a million photos but we have tried to hone them down to an acceptable number for the blog... it was hard because it felt like every day we were confronted with a more spectacular scene than the day before.  Anyway, here is a much abbreviated version of what we've been up to....

Day 1 (Besisahar - Nadi Bazaar) - approx 15km
We got off a hot bus into steamy and jungly valley terrain.  Hmm, we were expecting snow and mountains?!  Nevertheless the scenery was interesting, the waterfalls and giant yellow spiders keep us amused.  After a couple of hours walking, Sarah said "I never knew you were such a sweaty person".  My entire t-shirt was soaked in the stuff and my travel-light strategy of one shirt for trekking, one shirt for sleeping, was already looking very stupid.

Day 2 (Nadi Bazaar - Tal) - approx 21km

Another boiling hot day and my trek shirt had only just dried out overnight, soon to be soaked again.  The light smell on it was ominous, considering we still had approx 15 days to go... and no spare shirt.  As we walked we began to make some proper altitude gains and the air got fresher, thank goodness.  The going was gruelling at times, with Sarah forcing the pace, not that I was moaning, ahem!
Me: "I'm knackered.  Can we take a 5min break?"
Sarah: "It's not a picnic"
Me: "But we're on holiday?"
Sarah: "Stop whining."
We finished the day's walk at Tal, a very beautiful spot where the river is quite flat, almost a lake, before cascading down a steep set of rocks.  The final walk up the hill was brutal (a word I used a lot) and my boots needed yet another repair when we reached town, the right sole about to fall off.  Thankfully the very nice hotel man offered to repair them for free.

Day 3 - (Tal to Chame) - approx 20km
The terrain became Alpiney, with loads of pine trees and snowy peaks now visible.  Strangely, it smelled a lot like the pine forests in Ibiza, if you've ever been there.  It was beautiful walking along stone paths with a lot of steep hills and waterfalls, and we kept bumping into people we'd met in South India, Calcutta, Andaman Islands etc (the Israelis again!).  

At the hostel, I sampled the local Sherpa brew called chang.  To me it tasted similar to some of those dodgy ciders you get at Glastonbury that are a kind of nuclear orange colour, i.e. quite sour and very strong.  After two glasses I was tipsy and hardly noticing the weird black and white floaty things in my glass.  Sarah smelled it once and made a retching noise.

Day 4 - (Chame) - 0km REST DAY
Mainly chillin'

Day 5 - (Chame to Manang) - approx 35km

A very long day in terms of milage but we were blessed with a gently upsloping path most of the way.  We noticed that as we increased altitude the goats we saw became hairier and with shorter legs.  The ponies were also more hairy.  We looked at each other and we noticed that we too had become hairier, although our legs appeared to be the same length as before.  At lunch we met a large New Yorker called Vinny.  He was wearing a NY fire department  (NYFD) sweater so I asked if he is in the fire brigade.  He says he would be but "now they got the regular drugs testing, so I ain't." 

We arrived at Manang which was our first proper high altitude town, and by 5pm was already freezing.  Weren't we in the jungle just 3 days ago?  We found a restaurant with a giant wood-fired stove in the middle which kept us warm as we munched on more rice and lentils.  The food was getting more and more dull the higher we went.

Day 6 - (Manang) - 0km ACCLIMITISATION DAY
The altitude took its toll overnight with both of us having a bad night's sleep.  Or maybe I should be more honest and say that I slept ok but Sarah was kept up by me snoring and me going to the loo a million times (both altitude related, is my excuse).  We decided to do an acclimatisation walk up the nearby viewpoint about 300m vertically above the town - it took ages with lots of breathless panting - definitely getting harder to breathe.

In the afternoon, while Sarah tried to catch up on sleep, I went to a lecture on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) provided by an excitable volunteer doctor from America.  I discovered that there are loads of ways to die quite quickly, including HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema - lungs fill with water) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Oedema - brain fills with water).  The only solution is to go down immediately at least 1000m.  The doctors are happy that they have reduced the number of tourist deaths to approx 1 in 30,000.  Sounds good odds to me.  Amusingly, there is also a genuine medical syndrome called HAFE - High Altitude Flatulent Expulsion.  I shouldn't need to explain this to fellow adults, but this MEANS YOU FART ALL THE TIME!!  Something to do with lower pressure on the bowels apparently.  I knew there was a reason...

Day 7 & 8 - (Manang to Tilicho Base Camp, then to Tilicho lake, to Yak Kharka) - MANY Km
I persuaded an unkeen Sarah that we ought to take this long detour from the main route to see the world's highest lake.  Sarah is not allowing me to write about this part, because erm.... well I'll let her explain when she blogs on it.  Suffice to say that I wasn't Mr Popular....
Read her entry here

Day 9 - (Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi) - approx 10km
Absolutely knackered after the last two days heavy walking, so it was a short one up to the foot of the high pass.  We arrived by 11.30am and had an enjoyable afternoon with hot bucket showers (after no washing for 2 days), nice food and beers.  There was only one hotel here so we met a lot of people we had bumped into along the route and there was a good atmosphere in the restaurant: "Tomorrow is summit day!"

On the downside, we again encountered an irritating European guy who kept on asking us how fast we were walking, what time we get up in the morning, how many breaks do we have.  He was super competitive and it was annoying as we could see he would be going the same way as us (and we are secretly competitive as well!).  Before bed, he asked us what time we were going to start up the hill to the pass - uuunngh no escape from him!

Day 10 - (Thorung Phedi to the Thorung Pass, then down to Muktinath) - approx 20km
Conditions were cold but clear - very good for "summit day" and we excitedly put our kit on at 6am.  Annoying Euro competitive person was awaiting us in the restaurant, and sure enough he departed up the hill about 1 minute behind us. The initial climb was very steep for about 40 minutes, and because of the altitude we took about 5 breaths per 1 step, and surprise surprise we suddenly found ourselves being followed closely by the Euro idiot.  We stopped to let him go past but he said he was happy to go up with us.  Then, would you believe as we appoached the summit, he suddenly steamed past us, just to show that he could go faster.  So annoying!  We pretended not to care but quietly imagined ways of belittling him later if we re-met.

At the top of the pass at 5416m, or our "summit" as we called it, it was bloody freezing and difficult to breathe.  Sarah wanted me to try to do 20 press-ups.  I managed a pathetic 8 then collapsed (but didn't let on that I wasn't much better at sea level).  A few people we met at the top said that they had got severe headaches, and we saw one older chap retching over his climbing poles.  Given what we had learnt about AMS before it was quite worrying, but most of these people had been to the same lecture so they knew the risks... In any case they all seemed to be ok when we got down later in the day.

We tried to get down from the pass as quickly as possible, but the nearest town was 1700m vertically down, a brutal workout for the knees.   Also the path was strewn with rubbish so I grabbed loads of discarded plastic bottles as I went and stuffed them in my pack.  Amusingly when I got to the first town, I gave them all to a restaurant owner to put in the trash, and then watched as he proceeded to chuck them all behind a big rock.  Oh well. 

Day 11 (Muktinath to Jomsom) - approx 20km
Woke up and both of us just not feeling so keen on trekking anymore.  My trekking shirt stink was disgusting, despite having washed it on the rest days.  Worryingly, I was beginning to get used to the smell of my own BO (I will never get used to Sarah's trekking socks).  

We walked to Jomson and the scenery was much changed now we were in a different valley - the terrain was arid and the wind was extremely harsh, blowing dust over your face so hard that it felt like being sandpapered.  I was glad I had my beard for some protection and Sarah said she wished she could have one too.  We both felt tired and looked gaunt and thin now.  It wasn't fun.

Day 12 - (Jomson to Pokhara) BY AIR
Trek Abandoned.  After the physical and mental high of summit day we had lost our trekking mojo.  We had achieved our personal Everests; the foothills were no longer a fun challenge.  Plus it was snowing and raining all through the night, and still raining in the morning.  So, although it had been a lot of fun, we were glad to watch the ground disappear beneath us as the plane left Jomson airport for Pokhara

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